The Skagen Falster is a high fashion Android wearable

Skagen is a well-know maker of thin and uniquely Danish watches. Founded in 1989, the company is now part of the Fossil group and, as such, has begin dabbling in both the analog with the Hagen and now Android Wear with the Falster. The Falster is unique in that it stuffs all of the power of a standard Android Wear device into a watch that mimics the chromed aesthetic of Skagen’s austere design while offering just enough features to make you a fashionable smartwatch wearer.

The Falster, which costs $275 and is available now, has a fully round digital OLED face which means you can read the time at all times. When the watch wakes up you can see an ultra bright white on black time-telling color scheme and then tap the crown to jump into the various features including Android Fit and the always clever Translate feature that lets you record a sentence and then show it the person in front of you.

You can buy it with a leather or metal band and the mesh steel model costs $20 extra.

Sadly, in order stuff the electronics into such a small case, Skagen did away with GPS, LTE connectivity, and even a heart-rate monitor. In other words if you were expecting a workout companion then the Falster isn’t the Android you’re looking for. However, if you’re looking for a bare-bones fashion smartwatch, Skagen ticks all the boxes.

[gallery ids="1622526,1622527,1622528,1622529"]

What you get from the Flasterou do get, however, is a low-cost, high-style Android Wear watch with most of the trimmings. I’ve worn this watch off and on few a few weeks now and, although I do definitely miss the heart rate monitor for workouts, the fact that this thing looks and acts like a normal watch 99% of the time makes it quite interesting. If obvious brand recognition nee ostentation are your goal, the Apple Watch or any of the Samsung Gear line are more your style. This watch, made by a company famous for its Danish understatement, offers the opposite of that.

Skagen offers a few very basic watch faces with the Skagen branding at various points on the dial. I particularly like the list face which includes world time or temperature in various spots around the world, offering you an at-a-glance view of timezones. Like most Android Wear systems you can change the display by pressing and holding on the face.

It lasts about a day on one charge although busy days may run down the battery sooner as notifications flood the screen. The notification system – essentially a little icon that appears over the watch face – sometimes fails and instead shows a baffling grey square. This is the single annoyance I noticed, UI-wise, when it came to the Falster. It works with both Android smartphones and iOS.

What this watch boils down to is an improved fitness tracker and notification system. If you’re wearing, say, a Fitbit, something like the Skagen Falster offers a superior experience in a very chic package. Because the watch is fairly compact (at 42mm I won’t say it’s small but it would work on a thinner wrist) it takes away a lot of the bulk of other smartwatches and, more important, doesn’t look like a smartwatch. Those of use who don’t want to look like we’re wearing robotic egg sacs on our wrists will enjoy that aspect of Skagen’s effort, even without all the trimmings we expect from a modern smartwatch.

Skagen, like so many other watch manufacturers, decided if it couldn’t been the digital revolution it would join it. The result is the Falster and, to a lesser degree, their analog collections. Whether or not traditional watchmakers will survive the 21st century is still up in the air but, as evidenced by this handsome and well-made watch, they’re at least giving it the old Danish try.

VR, presence and the case of the missing killer app

Compelling virtual reality shipped to developers and consumers nearly two years ago. The first flagship headsets arrived from Oculus and HTC back in the spring of 2016, offering enough resolution, frame rate, field of view, latency mitigation and position-tracking to produce believable visual immersion.

But no one seems to know what to do with it. To date, no killer app has extended the promise of VR from a novelty to a sticky experience or utility that reaches beyond enthusiasts to resonate with the consumer center of mass.

This isn’t to say that great experiences don’t exist. Apps like Tilt Brush, Elite: Dangerous and Google Earth VR have earned rave reviews and plaudits from enthusiasts. But we have yet to see a household phenomenon like Halo or Lotus 1-2-3 — applications that single-handedly propelled their respective platforms to wide use. At CES 2018, one industry analyst referred to VR as “drawerware,” referring to the likelihood of headsets to be stuffed in a drawer after a few forays into jejune worlds.

In an attempt to shed some light on the case of the missing VR killer app, I want to offer a few thoughts on why VR matters to users, and what that implies for entrepreneurs and investors interested in building or funding the VR killer app.

Why VR matters: Presence

Why is virtual reality valuable? In a word, presence: Immersion is the heart of the incremental value of VR versus existing platforms. Most forms of expressive media provide a third-person perspective of an experience, or convey sufficient information to help a user imagine a first-person perspective on their own.

When done right (6DoF tracking, room-scale movement, sufficiently high-resolution/FOV/low latency, spatial audio), virtual reality helps a user feel like they are really there. Rather than convey an impression of an experience, VR manipulates our visual and auditory senses (and soon our tactile sense) to transmit experience itself.

Presence is valuable in two ways

The idea that VR is valuable because it generates presence is well understood. But why does presence matter? What need does being there fill for users?

The quality of presence has clear intrinsic value. With few exceptions, subjective immersion is the best way to fully grasp what a certain experience is like. Being at the mountaintop generates the maximum degree of sensory throughput, and is a better way to understand the truth of your relationship to that place than watching a video of the mountain, which is better than seeing a picture of the mountain.

The objective fact of being somewhere matters as much or more than the subjective feeling of being there.

But presence also can have instrumental value, where being there is valuable in an objective sense. Being present at a meeting with a potential business partner sends a positive signal separate from the fidelity of your experience. Actually visiting the mountaintop can impress your friends, mattering beyond the sensation of being there.

Put another way, and borrowing the language of philosophy, it seems like we value presence for its experiential worth — being for the sake of experience — as well as for its ontological worth, or being for the sake of being. Another way to describe the ontological value of presence is authenticity. The philosopher Robert Nozick suggested as much in his refutation of ethical hedonism, employing the notion of the “experience machine” to suggest we care about more than our feelings. What this all means is that for many kinds of experience, the objective fact of being somewhere matters as much or more than the subjective feeling of being there.

VR’s killer app will deliver both types of presence value

How does identifying the two ways that presence drives user value help us imagine the use case that a VR killer app might address?

First, it illuminates why many first-order VR applications may not be suited for adoption by a non-enthusiast audience. When examining some of the typical mass market use cases forwarded by VR aficionados — enterprise or personal telepresence, virtual tourism and travel, virtual attendance at sports and entertainment events, virtual social environments and rec rooms — it seems clear that authenticity matters a great deal to consumers of these experiences, meaning that simply porting them to VR may not be compelling beyond an initial sense of novelty.

I believe that the value of ontological presence is largely driven by social norms. As and when the quality of VR experience converges on metaphysically “real” experience, those norms will evolve. Perhaps our children will label us “substratist” for claiming that hanging out in VR is less satisfying than visiting in person. But with regards to the next generation or two of VR tech and applications, I’m not bullish on social VR experiences that merely replicate the ways we interact in real life. By generating experiential presence without authenticity, they seem to fall into an uncanny valley somewhere between interactive video chat and in-person interaction.

It’s tempting to believe, then, that the VR killer app will skirt the issue of authenticity by solving for problems where the subjective feeling of presence, and not the objective fact of it, matters most — for example, virtual training for a factory worker, touring new construction homes for sale or checking out a car in a virtual showroom. VR is already finding fruitful use in the enterprise and select consumer applications. But when considering potential killer applications, the problem is that arenas of experience where experiential presence matters but authenticity does not usually aren’t important or frequently accessed parts of our life.

Ultimately, I think the first VR blockbuster will deliver both the experiential and ontological value of presence. In other words, VR’s killer app will generate a powerful feeling of being there for a compelling experience, in a way that also feels completely authentic.

Quality, accessibility and ecosystem maturity are probably the biggest practical barriers gating the VR killer app.

I believe that the experience in question will lack an analogue in the real world. In other words, the VR killer app won’t be a multiplayer simulation of New York City in the present day, or a virtual movie theater, or a virtual Giants Stadium where you can kick back in a box and watch the Super Bowl. The application that sells the mass market on virtual reality will be fully native to the platform, such that the only way to know what it is really like will be donning a headset and stepping inside.

An engaging VR experience that isn’t simulating something in the real world, but exists solely in its own right, can immerse a user in both senses of the word: After all, authenticity is implied when the virtual substrate is the only home for a certain experience. The real question is making the experience interesting or fun or cool enough that the feeling of presence is appealing, too.

Concluding thoughts

If it sounds like I’m describing a video game, I think I am, too. But video games are a focal use case for every VR headset in production. What’s missing?

Quality, accessibility and ecosystem maturity are probably the biggest practical barriers gating the VR killer app. The current generation of flagship headsets are cumbersome and expensive to set up and run. Though deep price cuts across flagship wearables powered sales of more than a million VR headsets in Q3 2017, and both Oculus and HTC moved hundreds of thousands of high-end, PC-based units, individual install bases remain low enough to deter AAA studios.

Bootstrapping a two-sided ecosystem — in the case of VR, headsets/users and content, with more of the former increasing the incentive to invest in the latter and vice versa — is never easy. But better technology is on the way: HTC recently announced the Vive Pro, sporting improved resolution, spatial audio and a wireless adapter to do away with clunky wires. Google, Samsung, Lenovo and Oculus are working on standalone headsets that run without a PC or smartphone under the hood. Dozens of startups are developing peripherals and software to improve the VR experience, from haptics that mimic touch to pupil tracking that enables realistic eye contact.

Each new iteration of core VR hardware is a rising tide that makes any VR application more appealing to users on the margin. But killer apps often emerge on imperfect versions of the platforms they bring to life. The charting function of Lotus 1-2-3 strained the limits of the early graphics hardware on x86 PCs, but until 1-2-3, no one knew that programmatic generation of charts and graphs was even possible.

A killer app doesn’t need to be a perfect encapsulation of a new technology’s potential. All it needs to do is hint at the grand vision by providing a single, irresistible demonstration of value over the status quo.

In the case of VR, I’m not certain if that demonstration will occur on this generation of hardware or the next. But I believe it will be an experience that compares in intensity or joy or uniqueness to the best experiences we can access in reality. If you’re working on VR content or applications, consider this advice: Give us the ability to be present in a vision of the past, or a counterfactual world. Give us the feeling of life underwater or in space. Give us the sense of being present for an experience completely native to virtual reality, not merely an emulation of experiences we can already inhabit. Give us something real in its own right. That’s when the mass market will start to believe — and buy.

Samsung’s AR Emoji taps creepy avatars and Disney characters to compete with Animoji

 We’ve known for a while that Samsung’s been planning an Animoji competitor for its latest handset. Now that we’ve actually seen (the admittedly clunkily named) AR Emoji in action, we can testify to the fact that it’s some combination of compelling and creepy. That last part first. Like the iPhone X, the Galaxy S9 takes advantage of its on-board face scanning technology… Read More

This is the Samsung Galaxy S9 launch video

 And this year is all about business. While the Samsung Galaxy S9 is going to be announced tomorrow at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Slashleaks shared the official promo video for the Samsung’s upcoming flagship device. It’s a polished 3-minute video packed with information about the new phone. First, just like rumors said, it looks just like the Galaxy S8. There are some… Read More

Apple continues to dominate the tablet market as sales decline once again

 Bitcoin and crypto aren’t the only things on the decline, sales of tablet devices once again dropped in 2017, according to new data. Figures from analyst firm IDC show that overall tablet shipments fell by 6.5 percent to 163.5 million units last year. That’s down from 174.9 million in 2016, when the annual decrease was in double digits. Despite demanding falling overall, Apple… Read More

Samsung confirms it is making ASIC chips for cryptocurrency mining

 Fresh from toppling Intel as the planet’s biggest seller of chipsets, Samsung has confirmed that it has begun manufacturing ASIC chips which are used to mine bitcoin, ether and other cryptocurrencies. “Samsung’s foundry business is currently engaged in the manufacturing of cryptocurrency mining chips. However we are unable to disclose further details regarding our… Read More